We are having another Fortnight for Freedom, but we shouldn't

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori delivers the homily during the opening Mass of the Fortnight for Freedom June 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. Archbishop Lori is chairman of the bishops' religious liberty committee. (CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

Another Fortnight for Freedom is coming up. Once again, we as U.S. Catholics are directed to consider to what extent the practice of our faith is being infringed upon by our government. While the Catholics for Choice organization is not well thought of in many Catholic circles, the Baltimore Sun editorial provides many points that are worthy of consideration.

Jon O'Brien, President of Catholics for Choice, discusses the fifth Fortnight for Freedom that is beginning in Baltimore, and he makes a number of significant points.

Initially, O'Brien makes the same point I've been making for some time. (Here, too.) The bishops have distorted the notion of religious liberty. Instead of protecting their right to worship freely, which has never been in question, they are seeking to impose their positions on the rest of the country.

He makes two additional points. First, the bishops are winning because they have made President Donald Trump their champion and he is giving them even more than what they are asking for. Second, real people are being hurt by the decisions that are being made, and the bishops are applauding many of these decisions.

O'Brien notes that Trump has rewarded the bishops by denying funding to any overseas organization that speaks about, advocates for, or refers patients to abortion services, even if that organization is providing HIV/AIDS assistance. The president has signed an executive order that would allow churches to engage in partisan politics and help fund the campaigns of individual candidates. Legislation is being considered to allow corporations to deny birth control coverage for their employees on religious grounds.

We are no longer talking about abortion here. The Affordable Care Act never did provide public funds to cover abortions, despite what the bishops have been saying. The attack on contraception seems particularly misguided. Contraception has been a settled issue for Catholics for several decades.

Bishops are essentially protecting their own myopic point of view. Catholics, by a 74 percent margin, oppose legislation allowing organizations to deny services to employees or customers based on their religious beliefs. Seventy-one percent of Catholics believe all women should have access to birth control coverage no matter where they work. In any case, the church has no right to impose its position on the entire population in the United States.

O'Brien posits the bishops' position in stark terms. "It could be your family who pays the price now that President Trump has let the Catholic bishops and other extremist religious leaders dictate policy for everyone else."

He provides some examples. Your daughter is interested in a strong program offered at a Catholic university but hesitates because she can't afford both the cost of books and paying for her own birth control. Perhaps your brother will be denied the possibility of adopting and caring for a needy child because he is in a same-sex relationship.

He brings up two cases that stand out: A young woman was denied birth control services, Depo Provera shots, at a Catholic hospital and ended up with a ruptured cyst. A 17-year-old girl was raped on her way to the U.S. to work in the fields and was denied housing by Catholic Charities. She was transferred to another facility where she received an abortion.

The Catholic bishops have come out against the latest version of the Republican health care bill. I am glad about that. Yet if you read the article linked from Catholic Daily, it is clear that the focus for the bishops is the pro-life language in the bill. The suspicion is they would prefer to have no health care at all if their pro-life language is deleted from the bill. The focus should be on the poor, the disabled, and the elderly who would be hurt by this bill. Too many bishops remain committed to one-issue politics, and to their attachment to Donald Trump as a champion for their point of view. All the damage that this president is doing to our country in so many ways does not seem to be enough to change their minds.

It is time to retire the Fortnight for Freedom and focus on the real needs of our people — of all people. Christians are being discriminated against around the world, particularly in the Middle East. Focus on that. Focus on making things better for people.

A full-throated condemnation of the health care efforts that are going on in the Congress would be a good place to start. Bishops need to join Pope Francis in attaching their concerns, their values, and their efforts to the poor and the needy, and not to a president who will espouse one position today and a totally different one tomorrow.

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